August 24, 2010

10 Tips For Buying on Craigslist

So I’ve bought quite a few items on craigslist now and I’m starting to think of myself as an obsessive expert based on my recent successes.

I decided to compile some of my favorite tips for making successful transactions happen.

1. Have some good browsing tools. I’m fortunate enough to have an iPad, and using an app called craigsphone, I can quickly page through the furniture listings with image previews. There are a bunch of craigslist apps for smart phones, and I use one that alerts me of new listings in the towns I’ve selected, or by search term, such as furniture style. (Yes, “mid century modern” is one of those terms.) Although, it’s fun to watch “Say Yes to the Dress” and leisurely browse craigslist, but most of the time I’m in bed and don’t want to deal with clicking back and forth.

2. Know what you’re looking for, and focus. It can be so easy to go in thinking you just want a coffee table, but ending up emailing people about side tables and dining room chairs. NOT THAT THIS HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME. (It has.) For example, right now I have a razor focus on a small dresser for the guest bedroom to hold extra sheets.

3. Have standards. Smoke free, pet free homes are a must; you are avoiding odors and fleas. Don’t go for something just because it’s so cheap. There is usually a reason and it’s not always “MOVING- everything must go by XX date.” While that eight-foot couch looks promising, how are you getting it in your car? It’s the same with buying a house— stick to what you need, and you’ll be satisfied.

4. Be honest with yourself. Are you really going to repaint that table? In all honesty, are you going to spend that much time sanding something? If you’re not geared up and a little bit excited, don’t bother. It will just collect dust, take up space and you’ll probably get frustrated and sell it on… craigslist.

5. If you don't feel like broadcasting your personal email address to strangers, I suggest setting up a fake account and either have it forwarded to your regular account or set it up so you can check it easily.

6. Bid low. I never, ever, tell the person I will give them exactly what they're selling it for. I always go at least $10 lower.

7. Great! You agreed to pick up your item. Don't be stupid-- if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, bring someone with you. Or, arrange to meet the person somewhere public during the day. Don't ever compromise your safety for a good deal. 

8. Be respectful. Be on time. Respond to emails. Don't be a slacker! There aren't specific rules for use and there isn't any sort of automated reminder system, so it's up to you to follow the unwritten code of conduct.

9. Don’t be afraid to say "No." The item isn't quite what it appeared to be in pictures? Say, "Thanks, but it's not what I thought it was based on the photos," or "It's a little rougher than I thought." Don't buy it out of obligation. Your feedback will, in the long run, help someone sell their stuff-- or make them realize it's junk.

10. Yay! You got what you wanted! Before you set it up in your house, make sure to clean and disinfect it thoroughly. If you can throw it in a washing machine, great. If not, disinfect and wash it however you can, even if it's primarily outside furniture. You have no idea where this furniture came from, regardless of how trustworthy and clean the seller appeared. Don't take a silly chance.

Enjoy! And the hunt is always the best part. You WILL find it!


  1. Great tips Tina - I can't say how many times I actually got stuff just because other bozos didn't follow through. Like my $500 Volvo 240DL....man, compared to that, nothing quite holds up. Well, except for Mike. (Though I heard I wasn't his first date from that posting...)


I hope you say nice things, but if you don't, I'll get over it eventually.